The History and Culture of Black Jews in America Essay

1178 Words 5 Pages
According to the broadest definition, there are approximately 9 million Jewish adults in America. Of those, 5.3 million are Jewish because they practice the Jewish religion or who have a Jewish parent and consider themselves Jewish. Non-hispanic blacks make up 2% of that population. (A Portrait of Jewish Americans) Blacks constitute such a small percentage of the Jewish population that they are often considered to be obviously “not Jewish”. This was the experience of Rabbi Shlomo ben Levy.In an article entitled, “Who are we? Where did we come from? How many of us are there?”, Rabbi Levy describes his feelings of marginalization triggered by an advertisement for Levy’s Jewish Rye. The advertisement features a black boy eating a sandwich and …show more content…
(Kaye/Kantrowitz 1) Meanwhile, it is not uncommon for black Jews, who usually prefer to be called Hebrews or Israelites, to describe white Jews as the products of conversion or intermarriage and that Judaism is the true religion of their African ancestors. (Parfitt 84-88) This dynamic shapes the mutual mistrust that exists between black Jews in America and the overwhelmingly Ashkenazi majority.
The problem of marginalization began with the waves of Jewish immigrants from Europe who fled the Russion pogroms and later the Nazis. In their homelands, these people were Jewish, but in America they had the opportunity to be white. In cementing their status as white, these Amnerican Jews further alienated the small minority of Jews of African descent and others who do not fit nicely into the white race group. Despite this, the black Jews of America share a diverse cultural history that is both African and Jewish.
The Commandment Keepers, are one of the largest and best known black Jewish congregations in America. (Chireau 25) Their founder, Wentworth Arthur Matthew, is regarded as the first black American rabbi. Matthew’s background is not well documented. From his own accounts he was born in the West Indies in 1892, the grandson of an Ethiopian Jew, and studied at a number of prestigious institutions. The congregation he founded remains active and has been an Orthodox Jewish congregation since it’s founding in 1919. (Biography of